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By Tom Endean

You’ve gotta have soul!

Look, let’s start off with the facts. Despite what we hear in poetry (or what others tell us about it), how some describe creative types, or what abuses our ears in ironically soulless love drivel, “soul” is a concept created by humans to describe many elements of character, design and even nostalgia.

In a similar there-is-no-Easter-Bunny vein we only ever think with our brains; never our hearts and never with our unmentionables. Our brain may be effected by chemical reactions (or additions) from across our body, but our brain is always in charge.

What we really have here is the battle between our conscious mind and our unconscious mind. This doesn’t mean the battle between being sober and three sheets to the wind, but instead our logical, modern and calculating “intelligent” mind against the factory settings; our animal instinct, which has led us through evolution since we learnt that fire can cook food, but it can’t be on fire to eat it.

So what does this matter when it comes to cars? Well let’s put it this way. I love the Jaguar D-Type, and the XKSS, and the AC Cobra 427, and the Austin Healy 3000, and the Rover P5B Coupe, and... Sorry. All of these cars make me feel happy. I covet them, even though I know that most of the list will never be mine to own.

Now let’s take something like the Honda Jazz. It’s a perfectly good car. It’s economical; it’s reliable; it will easily go as fast as you are allowed to legally drive; it will carry a small family; it will happily sit in traffic; it will happily take you on a long journey; it has all the essential modern technology you would expect of a car; and so on. A little green man visiting this planet, with the knowledge of what we need from a car would say that the Honda is clearly better than any of my previously mentioned cars. In fact they would probably call all of the other cars insufficient on many levels.

This is essentially what your modern brain can do: take the requirements and give you an efficient and effective solution. So why aren’t we all driving around in characterless, but efficient machines? Thankfully our animal brain craves two things (and more so in young males than anyone else): danger and sex! These two drivers mean we want to race, we want to compete, we want to be better than others and we want to hump the best of the best.

Of course this gets a bit muddled with our modern mind and so it bubbles to the surface in different degrees with different people. The balance also alters as we go through different stages in our life. A teenager will happily buy a car if it looks cool, even if there is a 65% chance it will explode. A parent with two small children would almost certainly take a more “sensible” car if the chances of flame-engulfed vehicular death are dramatically reduced.

So, classic cars...

We all know they are not as good as modern cars in so many ways (don’t argue, just accept it). They break more often; they overheat when sitting there not doing anything; or don’t start at all. They are noisy and inefficient, but they have character. They were often built by hand; led by the dreams of just a few people – often a man with a pipe. We start to think that their various ailments, coughs, rattles and bangs are actually the vehicles talking to us – telling us that they need more attention. We find atheists praying to a god when they turn the key on a cold morning and then patting the dashboard of the car to thank it for finally starting. They become our friends.

In comparison, many modern equivalents are merely product numbers on a spreadsheet, designed by a committee to fill a gap and sell some “units” – or at least, that’s how it feels. Few modern cars are driven by the passion of a visionary engineer or designer – excluding those such as Pagani.

I find that classic and exotic cars and bikes are no less, or no more, machines than their offspring, but the people behind their creation have changed significantly – and this makes a huge difference to the romance of the result. All those little faults start to bleed into the haze of art over function. We love the underdog and as such we impart our own passion and character on the machine. Even the worst of cars, produced from the disaster that was British Leyland can become a beloved classic, despite all of the reasons why it shouldn’t be.

I sit hear writing this, knowing that my own Spitfire 1500 was part of the era when this change in production was becoming most apparent - when the corporate accountants were yielding more power than engineers and designers. But would I get rid of her (sorry, I mean “it”), no! This little machine is mine; I understand her feelings, her worries, and her weaknesses. She has soul!

Oh yeah – how they drive, look and sound makes a difference too.

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